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Indie prodigies get their start in the Downtown Eastside

Q: How do you keep inner-city teenagers out of trouble?

A: You hand them a guitar and amp.

By Sarah Berman , in Outdoor Voices: Music, arts and culture in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside , on January 16, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Q: How do you keep inner-city teenagers out of trouble?

A: You hand them a guitar and amp.

At least this is the solution supported by the Hastings Street Media Lab, which is hosting its third annual Hastings Street Indie Recording Sessions on February 6. The youth-focused battle of the bands will offer kids between ages 13 and 19 a chance to rock out and win prizes.

My first reaction? How fun is that!

This is a wonderful opportunity for at-risk kids to express themselves creatively and to hone some impressive musical skills. In a neighbourhood with more crack dealers than swing sets, the Indie Sessions is a positive way for teens to spend their Friday night.

In the words of prolific indie rockers Sonic Youth, it’s a Kool Thing.

But the competition is just one aspect of a larger campaign started by Bob Gilson and the Hastings Street Media Lab. Vancouver Youth Radio is yet another success story that offers high-schoolers the chance to submit tunes, produce, and even host their own radio shows and documentaries. Programs range from Paul’s “Head Bangin” to Max’s “Crossing Cultures” to Arielle’s “Indie Pop.”

After a short listen I found the station plays anything from David Bowie to Fall Out Boy.

The Disgruntled Toddlers were the first winners of the Hastings St. Indie Recording Sessions in 2006.
The Disgruntled Toddlers were the first winners of the Hastings St. Indie Recording Sessions in 2006.

It’s easy to see both the Hastings Street Indie Recording Sessions and Vancouver Youth Radio have touched the lives of many young people living in Canada’s poorest postal code.

When the Indie Sessions launched in November 2006, six bands performed to a live audiences and three judges. According to the Georgia Straight, Danny Jones of Scratch Records, David Engleman of Rocky Mountain Sound, and Bing Jensen formerly of the band Brain Damage, unanimously chose the Disgruntled Toddlers of Britannia Secondary School.

The all-girl band, featuring an eccentric mix of guitar, drums and a trombone, picked up a recording contract for 500 copies of a two-song CD release. This year, the grand prize is a full day of professional studio time, with the help of an experienced engineer. Runners-up have a chance to win Vancouver Canucks tickets or one of five computers.

Proceeds from the event will fund arts programming at three Eastside High schools and two local community centres. If you’re planning to check out the show, it begins at 4:30 on Friday February 6 at the Ray-Com Co-op Centre, found at 920 East Hastings Street. Tickets are $5.

Prospective performers can apply by emailing a musical submission to [email protected].

Photo courtesy of Mistressazzy.